Christine Breland was in Pamplona, Spain, this time last year for that city’s world-famous Running of the Bulls festivities, which take place during the San Fermin festival days in July.
This year, Breland ran with bat-wielding “RollerBulls” in her hometown during the seventh annual Running of the Bulls. The “run” began at the Sugar Mill at 8 a.m. Saturday and featured thousands of early risers gathered to celebrate the Spanish festival in characteristically New Orleans fashion.
The two events are similar in one key aspect, said Breland and her friends: “Drinking and getting whacked.”
Recalling her trip, Breland said she slept in a Pamplona park with thousands of other wasted travelers and spoke of getting “doused in sangria,” during the preliminary El Txupinazo kick-off that heralds the coming of the bulls over successive weekends.
It’s a story that sounded very New Orleans, complete with the hapless, drunken ending.
“It was totally crazy,” Breland said. “We never even saw the bulls.”
That wasn’t an issue at this city’s take on the Spanish festival.
The Neuva Orleans San Fermin festival featured some 400 roller derby players from around the nation, who “gored” attendees with bulbous plastic baseball bats.
As in Pamplona, localized San Fermin festivities centered around the Running of the Bulls. But the local event was a forgiving jog-walk of less than a mile — a walk many attendees clearly believed was best undertaken under mildly soused conditions.
“We try to do all the running events in town,” said a young local named Graham. “But this is not really a running event. It’s basically an excuse to get drunk at 6 a.m. event.”
Graham’s San Fermin Festival outfit stood out from the characteristic, basic white-outfit-and-red-bandana ensembles. It was white, but … .
“Yeah, it’s a combination of workout gear, women’s underwear, and fishing boots,” said Graham, who declined to give his last name. “Discretion is advised.”
Ozzie Cassanova had no such concerns about discretion.
Cassanova is a Home Depot worker from Kenner who got a hotel room near the Sugar Mill the night before — “so I didn’t have to drive drunk back to Kenner.” The Sugar Mill hosted several San Fermin events leading up to and following the run.
Cassanova wore a frilly cotton woman’s nightgown to the run and noted that last year, “it was a longer dress.”
He compared the New Orleans’ Running of the Bulls to the annual Decadence Festival, the gay-and-lesbian lollapaloozas held during Labor Day weekends. “It’s just like Decadence,” Cassanova said, “but for sane people.”
As he spoke, Crescent City Derby Devil Jana “Splode” Dukes weaved through the crowd on her roller skates, wearing a red-and-black leather corset and a bicycle helmet tricked out in beads and lace.
“This is my third year coming, and my second year as a bull,” a gleeful Dukes said.
“It’s a great way to blow off stress,” she added, and took off with a mad screech after a couple of giggling bull-runners.
Randi Wines survived her “goring” at the hands of a gauntlet of roller derby ladies lined up near the end of the route.
Wines, a cruise-ship worker, came to town from Orlando last week to visit a friend and soon found herself being pummeled by plastic.
She was spotted grabbing her hamstring and running with a grimace-grin as she escaped the goofy wrath of the roller derby girls.
“I got spanked pretty hard,” Wines said.
Some came to watch the ever-growing event, which was co-founded by a member of the Big Easy Roller Girls and drew a few hundred attendees in its first year, and about 10 roller derby players.
Organizers said 14,000 had pre-registered for the event this year.
Kat Ford, a New Orleans resident and member of the Pussyfooters parade group, took it in with a friend.
“It’s tough to get up so early on a Saturday morning,” Ford said, “but it’s worth it — once you get here, it’s really amazing and fun. It’s great, too, to celebrate Spanish culture — instead of French — in New Orleans, for a change.”